Live Aid 1985: Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Elton John, Paul McCartney - Rolling Stone
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Live Aid 1985: The Day the World Rocked

An expression of musicians’ concern for the starving of Ethiopia, this was the biggest concert ever

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Front cover of the program from the Live Aid concert at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 13th, 1985.

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It was superstar heaven. Keith Richards was laughing and talking with Jimmy Page. A bodyguard handed Bob Dylan a beer. Across the room Jack Nicholson and Neil Young chatted. Andy Taylor, guitarist for Duran Duran and the Power Station, took a hit off a joint and screamed out, “Don,” then gave ‘Miami Vice’ star Don Johnson a hug. “We gonna get high!”

At one a.m. the party inside the second-floor suite of the the Palace Hotel in Philadelphia was still going strong. Live Aid — the concert that was being called the Eighties Woodstock — was now history. More than 1.5 billion people from all around the world had watched on television as over sixty pop stars performed on stages in London and Philadelphia. As much as $40 million had been raised for the starving people in drought-stricken Africa. Now it was time to cool out.

Yet the communal spirit that had been in evidence at Wembley Stadium, in London, and John F. Kennedy Stadium, in Philadelphia, was alive at this low-key party for the stars. There was a warm feeling of camaraderie as celebrities sat next to each other on a sofa, shared a chair, enjoyed a good laugh. The biggest names in rock — some known for their arrogance, others for their egotism — had at least for this day (and the following night and morning) cut the pretentiousness and one-upmanship.

Gathered together at one end of the room – drinking, chatting, carrying on – were Dylan, Richards, Page, Ron Wood, Stephen Stills and former Temptations Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin. Dylan wore black leather pants and, over his bare chest, a black leather vest; an earring hung from his left ear, and a woman wearing a blond wig hung on to his right arm. “Fun? No, we couldn’t hear anything,” Dylan said of his performance with Wood and Richards. Still, it was easy to see that he was enjoying himself. “We had fun rehearsing.”

Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes and his wife, sheathed in black leather, surveyed the scene. Over by the bar someone said to Andy Taylor, “Andy, having a good time?”

“He’s drunk,” said Taylor’s wife.

Keith Richards stepped out onto the patio, where he was asked what it was like playing with Dylan. “Well, it’s not the first time,” he said.

“It is the first time you’ve played together in public, though.”

“Yeah, first time before a paying audience. Course we didn’t get paid.” He laughed, then added, obviously joking, “Would have been better if we’d gotten paid.”

At 3:44 a.m., following dinner with Tina Turner and Chevy Chase in Tina’s suite, Mick Jagger came downstairs and made his entrance. Why did he choose to perform? “To raise a lot of money,” said Jagger. “That was the main thing — draw attention to the hunger in the world. Down the line, people can appreciate what can be done by an event of this magnitude. It was really a relatively nice, well-meaning event.” Then he walked, with jerky steps, across the patio, taking a seat next to Nick Rhodes. The old guard and the new, having some fun together.

100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Mick Jagger

Geldof’s Dream

Nothing’s impossible.”

Those two words were all Bob Geldof — the leader of the Boomtown Rats and the man responsible for the all-star British benefit single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” — needed to hear. Harvey Goldsmith, the top promoter in England, was willing to help make his dream come true.

“Bob said this should be the definitive statement for the music business,” said the thirty-nine-year-old Goldsmith, recalling his March meeting with Geldof. “He said we ought to do a show in England and one in America as well. The idea was to do a worldwide television hookup and raise money with a telethon. We just talked about it, and he asked, ‘Is it possible?'” Goldsmith paused a moment, then added with British understatement, “And that’s when the nightmare started.”

Goldsmith quickly secured Wembley Stadium — a 72,000-capacity outdoor sports arena seven miles from the center of London — for July 13th, 1985. Meanwhile, Bill Graham, whom Geldof had enlisted as the American promoter, landed JFK Stadium in Philadelphia.

As it happened, the City of Brotherly Love was in need of a better image, after the bombing of the MOVE headquarters in West Philadelphia had left 11 people dead and 250 homeless. “We did have that unfortunate incident,” said Larry Magid, a Philadelphia-based promoter who, along with partner Allen Spivak, helped Graham over the next few weeks. “And if this can help ease things up, great.”

The Global Jukebox

Michael C. Mitchell had a goal without precedent: a televised, intercontinental extravaganza, with a worldwide viewership of over 1.5 billion people — almost twice the audience of the 1984 Summer Olympics. And he had a deadline without precedent: in ten weeks he had to produce a broadcast that would normally take two years to organize.

Mitchell, the head of Worldwide Sports and Entertainment, not only produced the U.S. Live Aid concert but also set up the international telethon, sold broadcast rights around the world and oversaw all finances. Like Goldsmith and Graham and most of the other top Live Aid personnel, Mitchell, 39, donated his services.

Geldof and Mitchell got together in New York in early May and “talked concept” for about an hour and a half. Without waiting a day, Mitchell began knocking on doors. “I kept thinking of the old phrase ‘It’s not television that we’re producing but vision,'” said Mitchell, who was in charge of planning and finance for the 1984 Olympics. “This is a show to try to provide vision, but you couldn’t have made it any more complex, involved any more of the world or gotten it any bigger.”

His first chore was to line up countries to broadcast Live Aid. He figured that only about ninety nations — representing about 500 million of the world’s 600 million television sets — were capable of broadcasting the show live, so he tackled those countries first. They included most of the biggies: the United States, the United Kingdom, West Germany, France, Australia, Japan and the Eastern Bloc nations.

Essentially, Mitchell went after money — getting these countries to pay for the right to broadcast Live Aid, or to agree to carry a telethon in which viewers would be encouraged to pledge money during breaks in the show, or to do both. Britain and Japan joined the cause within a few days; other countries were slower to commit. Still, by the day of the show, over 100 countries had agreed to carry the broadcast; at least 22 of those also agreed to broadcast telethons.

Rights fees for the broadcast ranged from a few thousand dollars to millions. U.S. networks forked over the most — the undisclosed figure is said to be well into the millions — but one official of Worldwide noted that “on a cost-per-viewer basis, countries like Australia, New Zealand and even Canada made the United States look like cheapies.”

Although MTV had agreed early on to broadcast the entire show, it was not easy for Mitchell to sell the package to the major networks. According to Geldof, both CBS and NBC flatly turned it down. “So when Mike Mitchell went to ABC,” Geldof said, “he had to bluff them by saying CBS and NBC were interested, in order to drive up the price.”

Once involved, the corporate bigwigs at both MTV and ABC apparently got more into the spirit of the Old West than of the Global Village. According to various reports, they decided that the United States wasn’t big enough for the two of them. “MTV didn’t want ABC, and ABC didn’t want MTV,” said a disgusted Harvey Goldsmith. Added Mike Mitchell: “Our people had to say, ‘Look, this show is bigger than the both of you. We’ve got to share and find areas of compromise.'” (An MTV spokesperson denied the charge: “We said from the very beginning, ‘We are there. We want to cover the entire thing. If other people come in and want it, fine.'”)

ABC did manage to extract some compromises from a third, ad hoc network of 105 television stations across the country cobbled together expressly for the Live Aid event. This domestic syndicate agreed to air only the first eleven hours of the program, until six p.m. Eastern Daylight-Saving Time. Two hours later, at eight p.m., ABC would kick in with its coverage, hosted by Dick Clark and featuring the remaining nine live acts. ABC also asked for, and got, the right to block several acts — including David Bowie, Elton John and Wembley show closer Paul McCartney — from appearing live on the domestic syndicate during the day.

Bob’s Business

In the weeks before the concerts the normally manic Geldof became even more frenzied. Camped out in Phonogram’s London office, he tried to keep up with the telephone calls that were pouring in endlessly from all over the world. The latest was from a West German television producer. Unfortunately, he told Geldof, his network would not be able to carry a telethon.

Geldof offered a few suggestions. Band Aid, he said calmly, would be happy to set up a separate bank account in Germany to comply with local laws and calm any fears about the distribution of Live Aid income. And, he added, he’d be glad to speak with government officials about the importance of the telethon.

The producer wasn’t convinced, so Geldof tried again. “What’s wrong with you guys?” he screamed. “I can’t understand it. There are only two or three countries not doing telethons, like Yugoslavia and Switzerland. Even France, which is one of the cheapest countries in Europe in terms of charitable contributions, is doing one. Why not Germany?”

In fact, at that point, France had not agreed to a telethon, but Geldof wasn’t about to let the facts get in his way. Earlier in the day he had pulled the same stunt on a French television producer, claiming Germany was in the bag. Still, it wasn’t working.

Finally, Geldof resorted to blackmail, threatening to take the broadcast away from the Germans unless they fell in line. A roguish smile slowly began to play on Geldof’s face as he listened intently. Then he signaled thumbs up. The telethon would run in Germany.

Meeting the Press

On june 10th, at press conferences in London and New York, the Live Aid concerts were officially announced. Geldof called it “a global jukebox.” The most luminous rock and pop stars in the world would perform. A list of names was rattled off that sounded like the top half of the Billboard pop charts. Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, the Who, Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, Tears for Fears, Daryl Hall and John Oates, Huey Lewis and the News, Robert Plant, Boy George, Phil Collins, Elton John, Wham!, U2, Paul McCartney, Waylon Jennings and on and on. That wasn’t all: Geldof said that Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and Lionel Richie might participate as well.

It all sounded quite unbelievable. As it turned out, some of it was. Stevie Wonder, for instance, had not agreed to play. Others, including Waylon Jennings, Mick Jagger, Tears for Fears, Paul Simon and Huey Lewis, hadn’t yet made up their minds. “Mick was a bit surprised,” said Tony King, one of Jagger’s business associates. “But he wasn’t annoyed. He thought, ‘Okay, now I’ve actually got to do something.'”

Stevie Wonder was annoyed. “Stevie was never committed to do that show,” said Ira Tucker, Wonder’s publicist. “It was declined, and nothing else was said about it until we saw it on television that he was going to be there.”

Geldof seemed to be confusing desire with reality. “Bob put his soul into this thing,” Graham said later. “We all sometimes want things to work out so badly that there are no nos. The worst that can be said is that honest mistakes were made.”

The Black Issue

Why, reporters at that June 10th press conference wondered, were so few black acts on the bill? Of the nearly fifty acts announced at that time, only four were black — Wonder, Billy Ocean, Sade and two former members of the Temptations, who were to perform with Hall and Oates. “If they are not on the list, you can draw your own conclusion,” responded Geldof.

A day later another press conference was held, this time at city hall in Philadelphia. Bill Graham, Larry Magid and Mayor W. Wilson Goode fielded questions. Georgie Woods, a WDAS-AM radio personality and concert promoter, was furious about Geldof’s comment the previous day. Demanded Woods, “Are you saying black artists won’t perform?”

Restraining his notoriously volatile temper, Graham explained that every major black artist who had participated in the “We Are the World” recording session, as well as “every major black artist on the Billboard Top 200 chart and R&B chart,” had been approached.

As it turned out, that wasn’t true, either. Several major black artists — including Rick James, Philip Bailey, Run-D.M.C. and Dionne Warwick — apparently had not been invited. Nonetheless, Geldof had been in touch with most black superstars and had been turned down. “He started calling me regularly in May, when he was finding that there was difficulty getting the key black acts,” said Ken Kragen, who manages Lionel Richie, organized the “We Are the World” session and serves as president of USA for Africa. “He was very frustrated. What I told him, which is the truth, is ‘Bob, I would be more than happy to help you with that, but I’ve had considerable difficulty getting anybody to turn out for stuff myself. Everybody is kind of acting like they already gave.'”

Geldof also asked producer Quincy Jones to use his influence. Jones, in turn, put two employees on the case full time, contacting managers, lawyers and artists.

But the media continued to press the issue, causing Graham and Geldof to intensify their search for black performers. The Four Tops were subsequently added to the bill, as were Patti LaBelle, Tina Turner, Teddy Pendergrass and Ashford and Simpson. Kool and the Gang and Prince both contributed videos. And when Graham learned that Run-D.M.C., the most popular rap group in America, had offered to play but had been turned down by someone in his New York office, he called the group’s manager the next day and added them to the show.

Yet the scarcity of black superstars couldn’t be ignored. “Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder — why aren’t they doing it?” wondered Richard Walters, of the Norby Walters Agency, which books many black acts. “The question is, Why are artists not supporting it? Any individual artist can get on a plane and put himself there. It’s the easiest thing in the world. They don’t have to bring their band if their band’s not available. Just their presence is important.”

There was no single answer to the question. Everyone had a reason. Diana Ross was on tour, unavailable. Same for the Pointer Sisters. Donna Summer was in the studio. Michael Jackson? “He’s totally immersed in a couple of heavy projects,” said Norman Winter, his publicist. “He’s got major, major commitments that he can’t get out of. He’d liked to have done the show, but it’s impossible.” Couldn’t he fly in to sing a duet with Jagger or McCartney? “He could join forces with Paul McCartney,” agreed the publicist. “He and Paul work very well together, but he has other commitments.”

The Witnesses

Pity the Jehovah’s Witnesses. For fourteen years they had held a four-day convention at Veteran’s Stadium, right across the way from JFK. This year, one of those days was to be Saturday, July 13th — that is, until they heard about the Live Aid concert and remembered what happened when the Who played JFK two years ago during their convention. Rock fans urinated in jars and threw them at the Witnesses; some even mistook Veteran’s Stadium for JFK and tried to gain entrance into the convention hall, where one of the featured talks was about the evils of rock music. This year the Witnesses decided to pull out before Saturday. Some say they did it in the spirit of global cooperation, but what is certain is that with the Witnesses no longer at Veteran’s Stadium, there were 5500 more parking spaces available for the fans heading to JFK.

The Russians Are Coming

Five days after the Live Aid organizers announced the event, Richard Lukens, the international director of Worldwide, hopped on a jet. His destinations: the Soviet Union, India and the People’s Republic of China. His mission: to enlist them for the Live Aid cause.

Lukens’ first stop was the Soviet Union. He had dealt with officials there before, when he produced the first interactive telecast between the Soviet Union and the United States for the Us Festival in 1982. Now he had three requests for Moscow. He wanted them to broadcast the show over Gosteleradio, the state radio and television network. He wanted to include General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev among a group of dignitaries and celebrities who were taping one-minute messages for the broadcast. And he wanted the Russian authorities to allow two of the country’s rock bands — Autograph and Time Machine — to appear live via satellite during the broadcast.

The last request bothered the Russians. “They wondered whether their groups were of the same caliber as the other groups performing on the show,” said Lukens. “Would they look bad or embarrass themselves? Plus, they wondered if they were going to look bad if they didn’t raise money and everyone else did.”

Ultimately, the Soviets agreed to allow Autograph to perform as part of the show. Gorbachev, however, did not tape a message, and though the country did take the broadcast, it was reportedly shown to only about 150 people.

India agreed to air ten hours of the broadcast, and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi appeared in a one-minute videotaped message. The Chinese planned to transmit a videotape of some traditional music, but because of technical complications, it never arrived.

Jockeying for Position

As July 13th neared, Bill Graham began to feel the heat. In all, close to 100 recording artists had asked to participate in the American show — more than could possibly perform.

“The problem is, God forbid, you have to say no to an artist who can sell out the Meadowlands Arena or Madison Square Garden,” New York-area promoter John Scher said in sympathy for Graham. “That could end the relationship. And I’m sure that now there are managers and some artists who are jockeying for position. It is nightmarish.”

“I would think that there’s ulterior motives for over seventy-five percent of the acts,” said Eric Clapton’s manager, Roger Forrester. “They forget what the cause is about — ‘I want prime-time viewing. I want this. I’m not playing with him. I’m not following that person. I’ve got to be on between eight and eleven for the ABC network.’ Forget it all, just do it!”

In the end, Graham turned down several big-name bands, including, reportedly, Foreigner and Yes. But, by starting the American show at nine a.m. instead of at noon, and by shortening some sets, Graham managed to squeeze additional performers on to the bill.

“People like Crosby, Stills and Nash deserve to be in the show,” Graham said. “Creatively, they have a right, and they’ve also been there for all of the positive movements over the last twenty years. How could you not put them in the show?”

When the curtain finally rose in Philadelphia, there were thirty-nine acts on the bill; in London, twenty-two acts performed.

The Money

The people involved in setting up the Live Aid concerts didn’t like to talk much about money — which countries, which unions and which companies donated what. Instead, they preferred to play up the event’s inspiring message. Still, money is the medium through which Ethiopia will presumably benefit.

At press time Worldwide officials were estimating that Live Aid would net at least $40 million. But that figure could easily change: “Whether we bring in $20 million, $30 million, $40 million or $75 million depends entirely on the telethon,” said Mike Mitchell.

Other sources of Live Aid revenue include:

• At least $10 million in rights fees for the television broadcast worldwide.

• Approximately $5.6 million from ticket sales. The 72,000 seats at Wembley, which sold out in two hours, cost $31.25 each. The U.K. total: about $2.25 million. The 90,000 tickets at JFK Stadium sold out in five hours — 15,000 went for $50.00 each, while the remaining 75,000 cost $35.00 each. The U.S. total: $3.375 million.

• At least $3 million from corporate sponsors. Four corporations — Pepsi, Chevrolet, AT&T and Eastman Kodak — sponsored the event, and each was asked to donate at least $750,000 in cash, plus an undisclosed amount in goods and services. In return, the sponsors received advertising time on both MTV and the domestic daytime broadcast, and they were permitted to display advertising banners at the two stadiums. (Coca-Cola decided to withdraw its advertising from the ABC broadcast, reportedly because of the prominent display of Pepsi signs at the stadiums.)

• Combined merchandising efforts at Wembley and JFK added about $750,000.

Mitchell estimated that an event the size of Live Aid would normally cost about $20 million to produce. But, because of donations, the total expense of producing the benefit was reduced to about $4 million — most of which was incurred by the American production. The Wembley concert cost only about $259,000, but that was because the show there was far less complex than the U.S. production. For example, the worldwide satellite transmission, which originated from the States, cost an estimated $500,000, a third of the usual rental rate. “England’s not paying for it, we are,” said Mitchell. “So is it our cost or theirs?”

Wembley cost about $125,000 to rent — some $60,000 less than usual — but Goldsmith claimed that nearly all goods and services had been donated, including the sound and lighting systems, the monitor system, the stage, the rehearsal rooms, a small fleet of helicopters and airline tickets.

British organizers were quick to point out what they saw as philosophic differences between the two countries. “In England people give their services free,” said Goldsmith. “In America they give their services and want to be paid.”

“We tried to get every item donated,” Mitchell said of the Philadelphia production. “That included the food, the rental cars, the flights, the rooms. You name it, I’ve got a crew out trying to get it donated.” And, in fact, many services were donated. At least six hotels in the Philadelphia area donated about 250 rooms, and the Hard Rock Cafe provided $200,000 worth of backstage catering in London and Philadelphia.

Still, Geldof was irritated by such items in the American budget as commemorative plaques. In one budget $15,000 had been allocated for these mementos; later the cost was trimmed to $5000.

The Power of Rock & Roll

Sitting in semi-darkness on an Amtrak train bound for Philadelphia twelve days before the concerts, Bill Graham appeared upbeat and full of energy. “This is life and death we’re talking about,” the fifty-four-year-old promoter said. “Saving people’s lives. Here is a specific desire to affect consciousness, to make people aware of the plight in Africa and to raise funds that will hopefully lead to food and pharmaceuticals, equipment and drugs and vitamins, to help out these people. I can’t recall anything being that productive for that many people, productive in the sense of awareness and in what the end result could be.”

Graham propped a foot up against the seat in front of him and stared out the window. “There is a general awareness now of the power of rock & roll and how far-reaching it is,” he said. “This is the first show that’s going to challenge the all-time record of viewing audience, which was for the 1982 World Soccer Cup [about 1.2 billion viewers]. And what’s challenging it? A rock & roll show.” He adjusted his tortoise-shell glasses and rubbed his forehead. “It’s about time that the world realized that the rock & roll musicians of the last twenty years have stood out there,” he said. “I’m sick and tired of hearing about Altamont. What about the hundreds and hundreds of benefits that rock and pop musicians have given to worthy causes?”

The Big Picture

When the 1984 Summer Olympics were broadcast, that event involved only one network, ABC, which fed its signal to participating nations. The Live Aid show, however, called for at least five independent productions on site in Philadelphia. Four were for video — MTV, ABC, the domestic syndicate and the world broadcast — and one for the ABC Radio Network. Each had its own crew and marching orders for ads and station breaks.

At least twenty-five video cameras covered the action in JFK Stadium. Those signals were fed to what were called stadium trucks, where various producers decided which camera shots to use and when to use them. Another truck handled the signals from London, Australia, Japan, the Soviet Union, Holland, Austria, Yugoslavia and West Germany. All those signals were then routed to the various networks, each of which put its own spin on what would eventually be seen or heard.

Missing in Action

While the Wembley Stadium lineup remained pretty much the same as was first announced, the JFK bill was in almost constant transition. Perhaps none of the changes caused quite as big a stir as Huey Lewis’ announcement on June 28th that he and the News had dropped out. “It was a very tough decision,” Lewis said. “There were some questions as to whether the food is actually getting to the starving people or not. We felt, having done the USA for Africa thing, that we should wait and watch that. The jury’s still out. The prudent thing to do is to see how that money translates into food for the people before we do another one.”

Lewis’ comments drew an irate response from Harry Belafonte, a USA for Africa organizer who recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Africa. “I would suggest that Mr. Lewis get his facts together, that he stop being disruptive and divisive,” Belafonte told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “If he is such a hotshot with his mouth, let him get on a plane and go sit in a camp. . . . For him to sit back here and send out information based on hearsay is unfair to his colleagues and very unfair to the victims.”

Another notable missing in action was Billy Joel, who had been announced as a participant early on but had then bowed out. “Geldof thought Billy should just play the piano, which is kind of difficult in a stadium,” said Joel’s manager, Frank Webber. “It wouldn’t be fair to Billy’s fans and Billy to be trying to follow some of the really great rock acts just playing the piano. A stadium full of screaming fans and somebody playing the piano — it wouldn’t go over too well.”

Lionel Richie’s manager had similar sentiments, though in the end Richie did show up for the finale. “Lionel has no band together,” explained Ken Kragen. “Acts that are appearing there are going to come in with their own show — the thing that makes them stars. Performers who are not currently performing but are big stars are gonna look sub par coming in without any of their ammunition. Nobody wants to look like a fool in front of 1.5 billion people.”

One of the most anticipated no-shows was Bruce Springsteen. Though he never agreed to perform, rumors of an appearance circulated up to the last minute. According to a spokesperson at CBS Records, when Springsteen and the E Street Band were asked to appear several months ago, Springsteen decided that it would be unfair to ask his band and crew to work during their first vacation in five months.

The Kid

The black 1978 Oldsmobile, towing a black trailer with LIVE AIDE JULY 13 crudely painted on the side, drove into the parking lot across the street from JFK Stadium on Friday, July 5th. Eighteen-year-old Bernard Watson was at the wheel. A month earlier he had graduated from Miami Beach Senior High School, grabbed his guitar and a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and taken off in search of his dreams.

One of his dreams was to open the Live Aid show. So the young folk singer gave Bill Graham a cassette tape of his song “Interview.” Graham listened to the tape; he liked it. Three days before the concert Graham went out to the parking lot, where Watson had been staying in his car. “The kid’s real,” said Graham. “I like his sincerity.”

When Graham got to the Oldsmobile, Watson got out. He had brown curly hair, a harmonica holder around his neck and a Martin acoustic guitar in his hands. Standing before Graham, he began to sing Bob Dylan’s “All I Really Want to Do.” Then it was on to “Interview.” “While another mother watches another son starve,” went a line. “On election day everybody runs for security and guns,” went another.

When he was finished, the kid looked at Graham. “Hope I passed the audition.”

The next day Graham went back out to see Watson. “I think you’re going to do it,” he told the folk singer. “We’ll do it at about a quarter to nine. Think you’ll be ready? Then Jack Nicholson. Then Joan Baez. You mind opening for Jack Nicholson and Joan Baez? You don’t think you should close the show?”

“I’m ready,” said the kid.

Duran Mania

On Thursday, July 11th, the Durannies began gathering at the Palace Hotel. Their heroes, hoping to get in a little rehearsal time before Saturday’s show, were already there. So were the members of the Power Station, the Duran Duran offshoot.

Sitting in the Palace bar, Andy Taylor tried to introduce Duran’s Nick Rhodes to Power Station drummer Tony Thompson and singer Michael Des Barres. Rhodes didn’t seem too interested; neither did his wife. Then somebody asked how Duran’s first rehearsal in six months had gone. “We’re not too bad for a bunch of fairies,” answered Rhodes.

By noon Friday the teenyboppers were out in full force. Every time a limo pulled up, they began screaming. Across the street, at the Four Seasons Hotel, things were a little calmer. Eric Clapton and Rick Springfield checked in without much fuss. By early evening the Four Seasons’ lobby bar began to take on the appearance of a rock & roll country club. “They look like they’re about to play eighteen holes of golf, not rock & roll,” observed one hotel patron.

Simple Minds singer Jim Kerr was eating dinner with his dad. (Kerr’s wife, Chrissie Hynde, was upstairs, nursing their baby, Jasmine.) Eric Clapton was quietly having tea with members of his band, while Bryan Adams and his band held court at the back of the bar. Phil Carson, who manages both Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, worked a pay telephone with his portable computer. Grace Slick meandered around, reminiscing about Woodstock. Off in a corner, as if segregated, the two heaviest lads of the show, Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest‘s Rob Halford sat, sipping tea. Halford sported leather and wire-rim specs, and bemoaned his band’s 11:30 a.m. Live Aid time slot. “We usually don’t even come out till dark,” he explained. “I hope I don’t disintegrate.” Ozzy wasn’t worried about playing to a big nonmetal audience. “We’ll have our audience here, no matter what. Whether it’s Band Aid, Live Aid or Ear Aid. Metal is good for you. I’ve been doing this for sixteen years. Do you think I’d do this if I thought I was wasting my time?”

Back at the Palace things were heating up. There had been several sightings of Simon Le Bon and John Taylor, and the Durannies were busily calling their parents to say they’d be home late. Tina Turner and her manager, Roger Davies, checked in, then checked out the bar, where the hotel had posted a sign at the Palace Café Royal: Dear Patrons, Our Traditional Dress Code Has Been Lifted For The Live Aid Weekend.

Later that night the hotel gave an all-night pool party for the artists and their friends. A suite overlooking the pool was stocked with beer and liquor, and room service provided trays of fruits and salads. Mick Jagger spent most of his time chatting with Andy Taylor, whom he introduced to Daryl Hall. Billy Idol‘s guitarist, Steve Stevens, dropped in and talked to John Oates. Robert Plant arrived at about two a.m., after playing a gig in Detroit. Where’s Jimmy? everybody wanted to know. “Page is dead asleep,” he responded. “He’s nervous.”

At five a.m. a manager telephoned for room service. “There is a long wait for room service, sir,” they told him. “And the orange juice is gone.”

Mick and Tina

Sounded a little lazy,” Mick Jagger said. It was Friday afternoon, the day before the concert, and he had just finished a run-through of “Lonely at the Top” and “Just Another Night” with the Hall and Oates band. Next up was “Miss You.” Then Jagger noticed Tina Turner at the side of the JFK stage. He danced over to greet her; she had agreed to join him onstage at Live Aid for a version of “State of Shock.” After a brief consultation, he announced to the band, “We’re going to segue into ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll.’ Let’s really kick ass here.”

The band pounded out the monolithic crunch of “State of Shock” as Jagger and Turner, both wearing shades and big grins, faced off and began trading lines. For over an hour they rehearsed the two songs, fiddling with the arrangement, the tempo and their dance steps. “That’s it! That’s it!” said Jagger a few minutes before nine. “We got it. Jesus!”

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The next day Jagger stood by his trailer, backstage at JFK, talking about what a turn-on singing with Tina was. “Yeah,” he said, grinning. “I have to watch myself. I can’t really take it too far. . . . We both had to say that we wouldn’t go too far, the way we normally would at a show. MTV might stay on, but I don’t know about ABC.”

Would it feel strange performing without the Stones? “I’ll tell you after I go on.”

Jagger then began talking about why he rarely performs at benefits. “I don’t believe in being a charity queen,” he said. “To make the likely rounds, turning up at charity balls and dinners wearing my diamonds. There are very few people in rock & roll who set themselves up as charity queens. But this event has got most everyone in rock & roll — I mean, Jimmy Page isn’t known for his charity.”

Meanwhile, in her trailer, just a few feet away, Tina Turner sat wearing a white silk see-through peasant dress and red high heels. “I feel honored to be standing next to Mick Jagger,” she said as she teased her hair. “When you’re standing there with that kind of force, you’re proud. I just want to do everything right. I want it to be a memorable occasion for Mick as well.”

She applied some face powder and considered, for just a second, which other men she’d like to sing with. “Brooooce!” she moaned. “I gotta work with Bruce, man. Isn’t it wonderful that I’m the girl who gets all the guys. I did it early in my career, working with Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, James Brown. This part now is so good for me, ’cause it’s rock & roll. That evening with Bowie — it turned into a romance in public!”

For Artists Only

Jack Nicholson entered JFK stadium’s backstage area at 7:30 a.m., looking like a Mafia don in his striped sports coat, black trousers, two-tone shoes and shades. Accompanied by Chevy Chase and Lou Adler, the veteran record producer and current owner of the On the Rox nightclub in Los Angeles, he wandered through the complex, eyeing the light-green air-conditioned trailers that would serve as dressing rooms, the tented cafeteria and the fun-house mirror that someone had placed against the side of the restrooms.

Then it was time: Nicholson strolled out onstage and introduced Joan Baez. The concert was under way. “Did you hear that ovation for Jack?” Bill Graham yelled, smiling, as he stood at the side of the stage.

“I never faced this many people before, other than at a basketball game,” Nicholson said a few minutes later. “I hardly knew what I was saying. I did have the good sense to write it down before I went out there. I’m not a public performer. It’s like, standing in front of 900 people, I’m nervous.”

By about ten a.m. there was pandemonium in the artists’ compound. The Beach Boys, Paul Shaffer, Bryan Adams and Crosby, Stills and Nash had all arrived and were being hounded by a rabid mob of TV crews, radio interviewers and photographers. The moment a celebrity appeared at least a half dozen microphones were shoved in his or her face.

By the late afternoon the number of superstars per square yard had escalated dramatically. Sharing one set of trailers were Madonna, the Power Station, Duran Duran and the Pretenders. Madonna, who had arrived with a dour Sean Penn and newly dyed red hair, refused to speak to the press but had Nicholson, Timothy Hutton, Daryl Hall, Jim Kerr and Chrissie Hynde brought back to see her. “I wanted to meet you even before I was on the same label as you,” she told Chrissie. Madonna and Penn were inseparable, holding hands wherever they went. At one point, in fact, they were said to have disappeared into a small, one-person Spot-a-Pot portable toilet together.

Around the corner, in another set of trailers, were Eric Clapton, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Phil Collins, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Ron Wood. Petty paced back and forth, strumming an acoustic guitar. He admitted that he was not a fan of “political rock.” “I think those records tend to get a little boring at times,” he said. So why was he here? “Without sounding like a hippie, music is a real powerful thing. This thing today is like 100,000 Ed Sullivan shows. Music changed my life, and I see people all the time that it does great things for. If you don’t believe that, just imagine the world without it.”

Robert Plant was meditating about Led Zeppelin‘s trademark tune. “‘Stairway to Heaven’ isn’t the only reason you go onstage together,” he said. “Unfortunately, everybody missed the point with that song. ‘Kashmir’ was the song. It’s much more — not ethereal, not aesthetic, but evocative. Really, I have absolutely no idea why ‘Stairway to Heaven’ is so popular. No idea at all. Maybe it’s because of its abstraction. Depending on what day it is, I still interpret it a different way — and I wrote those lyrics. But I can do that with ‘Kashmir’ just as well.”

100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Led Zeppelin

By 7:30, at the other end of the compound, Ken Kragen had organized a run-through of “We Are the World.” Simon Le Bon, Jeff Bridges, John Taylor, Hall and Oates, Don Johnson, Joan Baez, George Segal and others were crowded into a trailer, singing the USA for Africa theme song.

Lionel Richie arrived a few minutes later with his wife, Brenda. Asked why he had agreed to participate at the last minute, he explained, “I had so many commitments. . . . When you start thinking about putting musicians in town and finishing an album, and you schedule people, and they only have a weekend or a couple of hours to do the sessions, to say to them, ‘Can you come back in two weeks because I’m going to Philadelphia?’ is hard to catch. So, finally, I had to put them off. They were beautiful enough to say, ‘Lionel, go ahead and do your thing.’ On Thursday I turned to my wife and said, ‘I gotta be there!'”

Who’s There

At Wembley Stadium anybody with the 100 pounds needed to buy a special ticket could hobnob in the banquet hall with the likes of Pete Townshend, who brusquely refused to be interviewed; Nils Lofgren, who also wasn’t talking; or the elegant Sade. She anticipated her set for an audience of millions without great trepidation: “When something’s so vast, it’s beyond your comprehension — it becomes tiny. It’s possibly less intimidating than playing to 150 people whose eyes are all on you in a club.”

Downstairs, where a group of trailers adjoined an instant version of the Hard Rock Cafe, two generations of British rockers staged a love feast that made the camaraderie captured last November in the Band Aid video look austere. After the Who’s rough-but-right set, a sweaty, grinning Pete Townshend, tattered blue bathrobe draped over his shoulders, embraced Elton John heartily. Nearby, Who drummer Kenney Jones said technical problems hadn’t ruined the show for them. “I don’t mean to sound blasé, but the Who are used to playing these big events, and we take it all with a pitcher of salt.”

Asked if the show had prompted any thoughts of a more permanent reunion, Jones said the Who would continue as they had said when they broke up — “If there’s a special occasion, we’ll get back together for that” — but he didn’t foresee any recording for the band without a shared pledge to write better material than their latter-day LPs had featured. “That was the downfall of the Who, really. The songs have not been that wonderful.”

As Elton John’s horn players warmed up for his set, David Bowie and Paul McCartney were literally frolicking among the potted palms. Looking like gentlemen dudes in their pale-gray suits, they struck poses for a gaggle of photographers with schoolboy glee, calling out instructions like “Back to back!” and bracing for a round of mock fisticuffs.

One trailer listed three bands who would be using it in succession, then the mysterious Ensemble Male. But a hoped-for reunion of the three surviving Beatles, with Julian Lennon standing in for his father, never materialized. That hardly made for a disappointing day, and a relaxed Sting, girlfriend Trudie Styler beside him, offered his critique of the show. “I liked Queen best of all,” he said, grabbing passing Queen guitarist Brian May to tell him as much. (Freddie Mercury, for his part, later clapped a comradely arm around the shoulders of a slightly bemused Bono.)

With the close of Elton John’s set, Bob Geldof began corralling participants for the finale. “Anybody got an acoustic guitar?” he hollered, then set about coaching vocalists while Sting passed out photocopies of the lyrics. Stewart Copeland told Geldof he’d done his homework for a cameo on drums behind “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”: “I listened to the record,” he said with a straight face.

Bob’s Back

The first thing they showed on the feed from America was a naked girl in the crowd,” Bob Geldof barked during one of his many dashes between the stage and the artists’ dressing rooms. “Don’t they realize that’s exactly the kind of thing that will make the Russians turn us off? Typical American directors’ shit. Also, you have these people in Africa watching, who are starving. The last thing they want to see is some well-fed American girl’s tits.”

Throughout the day Geldof’s mood ping-ponged between exuberance and disgust — a situation that was not helped by a sprained back Geldof had suffered the night before. All day at Wembley he stalked the backstage area slightly hunched, sublimating the pain with work and ultimately exhaustion. “He hasn’t slept in weeks,” said Boomtown Rats drummer Simon Crowe. “Paula [Yates, Geldof’s girlfriend] said that he would just lie in bed in a cold sweat.”

The Last Laugh

In the days following the Live Aid concerts, high-level officials of three countries — England, Ireland and Norway — nominated Geldof for the Nobel Peace Prize. Geldof, however, had no grand plans for the future. “I’m going to go home and sleep,” he told a BBC newsman. “And then I’m going to make a record with the Boomtown Rats — who were probably the best band of the day anyway.”

This article included reports from David Fricke and Fred Schruers in London, Merle Ginsberg in Philadelphia and Erik Hedegaard in New York.


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